Boomkat Product Review:
Evoking the American primitive ambience of Bruce Langhorne's influential 'The Hired Hand', Jim O'Rourke's latest is a gorgeous, quietly resonant and slow-moving snapshot of the wide North American landscape, or “prairie gothic”. Rendered thru simmering jazz keys, microtonal drone, double bass, piano and skittering percussion, it’s just completely unmissable gear that comes highly recommended to anyone with a Jim obsession, or for those of you who love those Tindersticks scores for Claire Denis as much as we do.
Jim O'Rourke's flirtation with cinema has been one of the reliable constants in his lengthy, prolific career. His best-known trilogy of albums 'Bad Timing', 'Eureka' and 'Insignificance' were named after Nicolas Roeg films, and even 'The Visitor' was a reference to Roeg's Bowie vehicle 'The Man Who Fell to Earth'. He's made his own short films, got involved with Werner Herzog's 'Grizzly Man' and scored a handful of independent features, most notably Todd Louiso's odd, underrated 'Love Liza’, as well as contributing to Eiko Ishibashi acclaimed ‘Drive My Car' soundtrack.
Set in the prairies of Western Canada, 'Hands That Bind' is a surrealist fusion of science fiction and Western tropes from maverick director Kyle Armstrong. O'Rourke has worked with Armstrong before on 2018's 'Until First Light’, and is here given license to render Armstrong’s skewed vision of Alberta with plenty of room for creative movement. Its eerie, foreboding landscape is mirrored via intricately engineered environmental recordings and pitch-warped instrumentation. At times it shimmers with the darkness of François Tétaz's influential score for Aussie horror classic 'Wolf Creek', recalling the film's spacious landscape via electric pulses and fudged radio static, suddenly diverting to a more gothic re-imagining of pastoral folk, dissolving its homespun instrumentation into oily pools of electro-acoustic abstraction.
On opener 'Go Spend Some Time With Your Kids', O'Rourke reels us in with glacial bowed strings and luxurious double bass, almost imperceptibly fucking with the pitch to prepare us for the rest of the album's peculiar intonation. Everything gradually starts to quietly curdle through grotesque hisses and unusually tuned string knocks, piping pastoral Americana into rougher, off-world spaces. Subtle even at its most vivid, the suite of tracks bubbles beneath Armstrong's wide expanse, bringing in manipulated field recordings to enhance the feeling of connected disconnectedness. But O'Rourke’s score never feels detached; when the sound starts to drift into abstraction, he pulls it back with a vibraphone, or a stifled orchestral swoop.
'A Man's Mind Will Play Tricks On Him' paints the album's sonic palette into what might hew closest to O'Rourke's 'Bad Timing'-style material. Using alternative tunings on the instrumentation, it feels a bit like watching a performance through a cracked, frosted lens. It's familiar but also not, perfectly capturing the film's disquieting visuals. Elsewhere, on 'Here Is Where I Seem To Be...', he dilates billowing drones into poetic reflections to draw us into the uncanny landscape in much the same way we feel listening to Eliane Radigue.
O'Rourke has crafted an album that's both driven by the film’s visual language and able to stand tall on its own. It's a remarkable achievement, even for him.